In the wake of 9/11, Congress mandated that the Coast Guard set up elite rapid response teams that can board and search rapidly moving vessels out at sea, among other duties.
There are now 12 maritime safety and security teams spread along U.S. coasts with 958 personnel assigned to the units.
The Obama administration’s 2011 budget proposal, however, calls for five of these units to be closed down and their duties consolidated into the seven remaining teams.
The Coast Guard could better defend these teams in the budget battles if it knew more about them, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General Richard Skinner said in a report. The service doesn’t know what their optimal staffing levels are, where the teams could best be stationed, the return on investment the nation is receiving, and exactly what skills and competency levels are needed for the units to carry out their jobs. There has never been a comprehensive analysis that would answer any of these questions, he said.
“The Coast Guard does not know whether the maritime safety and security team program is the optimal vehicle to conduct its maritime law enforcement and homeland security missions in the current threat environment,” Skinner said in the report.
The MSSTs are only one of several Coast Guard components that can carry out boardings, the report noted. While the teams have been in place for such events as the G-20 summit, the presidential inauguration last year, sporting events and national political conventions, they are not considered “first responder” units in case of emergencies, the report said.
Until a complete analysis is delivered, there is no way to know whether “the program represents a wise use of resources to meet current and future mission needs,” the report said.
The Coast Guard, in a written response to the report, concurred that there was a need for an in-depth analysis, but refuted the IG’s claim that the teams did not function as first responders.